Sermon on John 8:31-36
Text: To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
This past Thursday, we marked the 496th anniversary of the day that a monk walked to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. In his hand was a piece of paper on which were written 95 theses or points of debate. This monk was deeply concerned about the abuses he saw in the church, especially regarding the sale of indulgences. These little pieces of paper proclaimed forgiveness and offered time out of purgatory for a price. As he nailed that little piece of paper to the door, little did he realize the furor that it would cause. Over the next few weeks, his document was spread throughout Germany. It would eventually lead to a breaking away from the church and the beginning of a new church. The monk that walked those streets in Wittenberg about 500 years ago was Dr. Martin Luther.
We are heirs of the Reformation. This tradition has been handed to us. In this tradition, we have three touch stones or main points of doctrine that we hold to. They are summarized with Latin phrases — SOLA GRATIA, SOLA FIDE and SOLA SCRIPTURA. Sola Gratia — By Grace Alone — Only by the grace of God are we saved, not because of anything we have done. Sola Fide — Through Faith Alone — Only by believing in Jesus do we receive these benefits. Today we want to focus our attention on the 3rd of these touch stones — Sola Scriptura — By Scriptures Alone. Today, this Reformation Day, we are reminded SOLA SCRIPTURA — STICK TO THE WORD 1. For True Discipleship 2. For Genuine Truth and 3. For Real Freedom.
In our text, we find Jesus in the temple grounds in Jerusalem. The words before us today are a portion of the verbal sparring between the Pharisees and Jesus. The controversy centered on the validity of Jesus’ message and who had the backing of the Father.
With that we turn to verse 31, where we read, “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.’” Remember part of the controversy was whether or not Jesus’ teaching was valid, or worthwhile. Jesus, in speaking of his teaching, speaks of holding to that teaching. This means a complete and total acceptance of everything that Jesus taught. If they held to his teachings, they would be his disciples. A disciple is really a learner, a student. Obviously Jesus is showing that his teaching is valid. His hearers will be his disciples, if they are to learn it. Being true disciples means sticking to his Word.
So, in other words, being a true disciple means that God’s Word is so fixed in our hearts that it becomes a way of life for us. Everything we do is influenced by that Word. Holding to his Word involves both quantity and quality. Quality is that we don’t add our own ideas to what God’s Word says. Quality is also the fact that we don’t subtract from that Word, which is to say that we pick and choose what parts of God’s Word we want to believe. Those things that make us comfortable are OK, but not the parts we can’t understand. Holding to God’s Word is also a measure of quantity. Your study of God’s Word doesn’t end at confirmation class, as if to look at your confirmation date as your graduation. Holding to God’s Word involves a continual study of God’s Word.
Why is God’s Word so important? Consider this: When Jesus was on the earth, he performed miracles. The result of those miracles was that people were drawn to him. But, how did he, the Son of God, make disciples? He taught them about himself. How did he keep the disciples? By his Word. The same holds true today. Jesus creates and strengthens faith by his holy Word. Dear Christians — Stick to the Word for true discipleship.
Now we turn our attention to the next phrase that Jesus said to these people. He said, “Then you will know the truth.” What is truth? Long before and since Pontius Pilate uttered those words, mankind has been searching for the answer to that question. What is truth? The truth is sought after via many different avenues. Some turn to science to find out how the world works, to find out our origins. Others turn to philosophy and try to reason out the meaning of life. Why are we here? Where are we going? The problem with these pursuits is that they are not based on anything solid. The scientific theory gets blown out of the water with each new discovery. The philosopher is merely going by an introspective look at himself. All of these pursuits of the truth wander around before they become hopelessly lost and lead to nothing.
So, back to our original question: What is truth? Go back to our text and you will find the answer to that question. “If you hold to my teaching . . . then you will know the truth.” Jesus’ teaching, that is to say, God’s Word is the truth. That fact makes the Bible the most unique book that has ever been written. Every single part of the Bible is true. There is no other book that can make that claim. You don’t have to wonder as you read and study God’s Word, if what you are reading is possible. God caused the prophets, evangelists, and apostles to write exactly what he wanted the world to know. There is such great comfort in the fact that the Bible is true. That means that you can count on everything that it says. If God told you that something happened in a particular way, you can be sure that is how it happened. If you read a promise that God has made to you, you can count on it happening just as God said. When God promises to take care of you for the rest of your life, you know it will happen. Since God has promised that all who believe in Jesus as their Savior will spend their eternity in heaven, you can be sure that you will be in heaven. If you want genuine truth, stick to the Word.
Jesus makes a claim for this truth in verse 32 as he says, “and the truth will set you free.” Jesus speaks of being set free. When the Jews heard this, they became indignant. They said in verse 33, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” They’d never been slaves of anyone. Obviously, they weren’t thinking of physical slavery. After all, in that regard, they had been enslaved in one form or another, by the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans. It would appear from that fact that they made mention of Abraham’s line, that they were thinking of spiritual slavery. After all, they were the chosen people. They had the laws that were given to Moses. It was the heathen who were in bondage.
Jesus clears their misunderstanding in verse 34, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” ‘Yes, you Jews, even though you are Abraham’s descendants, are still slaves, slaves to sin.’ We, too, are slaves to sin. Even though we might think of ourselves as pretty good people, we are still sinners by nature. We are controlled by this harsh domineering master, who will not let us do anything, except what it wants. Not only are you a slave, but you cannot free yourself. No matter how hard you struggle, each sin only serves to bind you closer in its lock. If we were left under sin’s domination, we would be lost forever. As Luther put it in his hymn “Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice,” “Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay; Death brooded darkly o’er me. Sin was my torment night and day; in sin my mother bore me. Yet deep and deeper still I fell; Life had become a living hell, So firmly sin possessed me.” We were also in that state.
However, Jesus said in verse 36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus has come and set us free, free from sin, both its guilt and power, from death, an eternity of punishment and set free from Satan. By Jesus’ perfect life, he fulfilled God’s requirements of a perfect life for you and for me. God demanded that payment be made for our sins and Jesus paid it in full, when he suffered and died on the cross. Dear Christian, you have been set free. Rejoice in your freedom. Live in your freedom. Luther is an example of being set free. Once he was led by the Holy Spirit to the essence of Jesus’ teaching, that is the gospel of justification by grace through faith, he knew the truth. This truth set him free, free from the guilt of sin that haunted him for so much of his life.
You, too, have been taught the truth, the truth of God’s Word. By the working of the Holy Spirit, you believe that truth. You are free. Only in God’s Word do you receive real freedom. Now, instead of serving your former cruel master, you are free to serve God, to live in the joy that comes from knowing that you are forgiven. Live in your freedom.
What are some of the traditions at Zion/St. John? What are some of the things we do, just because we’ve “always” done it that way? There are many traditions in various churches. For example, it was the custom that the men and women sat on different sides of the church. The men sat on the pulpit side while the women sat with the children on the other side. The reason for this was that the men could hear the sermon and then share it with their wives when they got home. I can remember when we were in Mission, South Dakota and they still mentioned the pastor’s wife, who was the first to sit on the men’s side. What made this particularly interesting was that it had happened fifty years previous. Yet, it was still worth mentioning how this tradition was broken all those years ago.
We, also have many traditions in our church. Have the phrases “Sola Gratia, Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura” become a part of the Lutheran tradition, something we talk about, but don’t really know why? I pray that will never be the case, for in these three little phrases we find the hope of our salvation. Sola Gratia — By the grace of God alone I am saved. Sola Fide — Only by faith do I receive the forgiveness of sins and all the other blessings that God has for me. And finally there is the third Sola: Sola Scriptura. Today, we have been reminded of the great blessing we have in God’s Word. My dear fellow heirs of the Reformation, hold on to this gift of God with both hands, through the strength the Holy Spirit gives. Don’t let anyone or anything take it from you. Then you can sing, “God’s Word is our great heritage and shall be ours forever.” May God keep us faithful to our heritage. Amen.
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